If you are the parent of a daughter, it’s very important to pass along these 5 things our daughters need to hear about their bodies.
Guest Post by Dena Norton of Back to the Book Nutrition
Do you remember the first time you hated your body?
I do. I was 6 years old – the same age my daughter is now.
My mom had taken me shopping for new clothes and had to search high and low to find the size “6X” I needed. No one explained to me what “6X” meant, and I certainly don’t remember hearing anyone saying anything derogatory about my body that day. But they didn’t need to. I got the message – I was too big for the clothes that normal 6-year-old girls wore.
A years-long conversation had just begun. A conversation that called into question whether my body – and, by implication, whether I – was enough. Thin enough, pretty enough, good enough, and every other kind of enough I longed to be.
I see the same conversation beginning for my daughter…and probably for yours too, whether you realize it or not.
Our girls are struggling more than ever, at younger ages than ever, to accept and appreciate their bodies. The facts are sobering:
- Nearly half of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
- 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
- Half of 9- to 11-year-olds are on diets, and 80% of their families are on diets.
The odds are, our girls are already engaged in the battle at some level, and they desperately need us fighting alongside them.
So what’s a momma to do?
Especially if she herself still hears a voice inside that says she’s not enough?
As a dietitian, a former disordered eater, and a fellow mom, my encouragement to you – and to myself – is this: “ENOUGH!”
Haven’t we had enough?
For our sake and for the sake of the next generation of God’s daughters, don’t we know yet that we are enough?
No matter where you are in your own journey of body acceptance, NOW is when your daughter needs you. She needs you to give words to the conversation already happening in her head, and here are five things she needs to hear you say.
5 Things Our Daughters Need To Hear About Their Bodies
1. You are loved.
Our daughters (and our sons!) need to hear that they are loved by their Creator and by us as their parents, just because of who they are. My husband and I tell our kids stories of how much we loved them from the moment they were born, even before they could do anything to earn our love. We tell them how thankful we are that God put them in our family, and we tell them that, no matter what they do, where they go, or how old they are, they can never escape God’s love or ours.
Love won’t shield my daughter from questioning her physical appearance. But it will give a context of security and unconditional acceptance for her to fall back on when the questions come.
2. You are beautiful.
Fearing an overemphasis on physical appearance, some people neglect to comment on their daughters’ beauty altogether. But I believe the desire for beauty and love are God-given, and we frequently and affirm both our daughter’s physical beauty and the beauty of her character.
When parents – especially daddies – tell a little girl she’s beautiful and special, they help define how she views herself, how she views men, and even how she views God. If dads don’t affirm their daughter’s beauty and value, she will seek that affirmation from other men. (Source)
3. The most beautiful things about you aren’t seen with the eyes.
Young children think and reason concretely – it’s just the way God made them. So, while they may accept abstract ideas as true, they probably won’t fully understand them until age 10-12 (Source).
Since they’re prone to look outwardly to help them reason, our young girls need to hear often from us that there is a deeper beauty on the inside that determines how we think, speak, and act, and that this beauty far exceeds anything that can be seen with the eyes.
I try to point out to my daughter the character traits that are shown when she or others speak or act in a certain way, and we discuss how those things – not appearances – reveal who we truly are and help us meaningfully relate to one another.
4. Your body is wonderfully made.
From a very early age, I’ve tried to build into my daughter a gratitude and awe for how God created our bodies. I look for opportunities to tell her about how her body heals its own cuts and scrapes, allows her to run and play, and turns food into fuel.
Understanding and thanking God for the ways our bodies work to keep us alive and healthy each day helps children understand there’s much more to their bodies than just their height and the color of their hair.
5. You are not in competition with other girls.
Our self-saturated culture tells our kids they can do more and have more, even if that comes at the expense of others. Ironically, I believe self-acceptance is strongly related to the ability to accept, even celebrate, others.
When my daughter tells me that another girl has a physical trait or material possession that she’d like to have, we talk about how wonderful it is that God gave those things to that little girl. We also discuss the ways my daughter can love and serve others with what God has given her.
Being genuinely happy for another child and thankful for how God has uniquely gifted her helps diffuse her natural desire to compare or compete.
Assurance and affirmation
As moms, it’s tempting to want to shield our girls from the struggles of life, especially if we’ve experienced them ourselves. But, many of us would agree that those very struggles are what God has used to define who we are today.
So let’s welcome every opportunity we have to speak into our daughters’ lives, assuring them of our love, affirming their inner and outer beauty, and helping them use what God has entrusted to them in order to love and serve others!
What kind of things do you think our daughters need to hear about their bodies?
Dena Norton, MS, RD is a registered dietitian who lives with her husband and two children in Houston. Dena owns Back To The Book Nutrition, a web site and virtual nutrition practice devoted to helping women fix the root cause of their gut and hormone symptoms so they can get back to life! Connect with Dena on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, or schedule a free 10 minute Discovery Call to learn about working with Dena one-on-one.
I completely agree with you here. I don’t have a daughter, but young women need to hear these things.
Thanks for the wake up call. I made a comment to my 8 year old daughter about how I can’t see her ribs anymore and I just realized that though I didn’t mean it in a negative way, I think I should have not said it at all. This will definitely help me to be mindful for this.
I’m so glad to hear that this was helpful, Rosanna! My prayer in sharing this was that it would equip moms to think carefully and prayerfully about the power their words have to help shape their daughter’s lifelong relationship with her body! Hugs to you, mama!
6. Your body is your own. You have complete control of it. Never give that up.
Great addition, Joyce!
Yes! How we speak about our bodies is important too- our daughters are listening.
You’re so right, Aimee – I considered including the issue of what our daughters learn from our words and actions toward our own bodies. It’s such an important topic and I decided it deserved a post all its own…maybe I should get started on that one soon! 🙂
I honestly think this is the most crucial part. They learn by what we DO not what we say. If we are telling them they are beautiful and they are enough, and yet they always hear us bashing on our own looks and talking about how our own bodies are failing us or not good enough, they really do just learn that we should always look for the problems. My own mother struggled with her weight for years, but she never put herself down in front of me and I think that is why I have a pretty good body image today. I also don’t talk about the things I don’t like about my body in front of my daughters. I don’t really talk about how “awesome” it is either. We try to make other things besides physical looks more of the focus of our conversations.
I was three when I got that lesson. I was in hospital after having my tonsils out, and I heard my mother tell the nurse I was not to get jelly and ice cream with the other 7 kids in my ward, since I was “too fat for ice cream”. I have never forgotten that moment., and she has never let me forget that I was fat. 45 years of trying desperately to be thin, failing dismally and destroying both my body and mind in the process – I recently had gastric surgery in a last-ditch attempt to lose weight (130lbs down) and regain some semblance of health – all because my mother tore me down from age 3 through 45…if she had simply done any of what you wrote about (and not put me on my first diet right after I got home from the hospital, before I’d even turned four and kept me dieting who whole time I lived at home), I might have grown up as a normal, healthy woman. I won’t ever get the chance to have a daughter, but I do have a baby niece, who I will encourage and praise and say all the right things to – and hopefully she will believe me…
Wow…I’m so sorry you went through this, PK. I love that you have an opportunity to redeem all those painful years in your own life by being a voice of encouragement and acceptance for your niece! Hugs to you!
Dena, I loved this article! I feel passionate about everything you said here, and if I could, make one small addition. I believe this body acceptance needs to START with US (the moms). I believe it’s so important to look within our own selves and find healing for the places we are not kind or loving to ourselves. Our actions and the way we truly accept ourselves will be known by our daughters without a single word to them. Our lives, and practicing self acceptance, will in fact, be a living example of what daughters need from us. We moms can pave the way for HOW ITS DONE. Our daughters will have to decide how they take in the messages of our culture, but we can demonstrate how to do this by the way we accept our own beauty and flaws and find our worth. Your article was a beautiful message for ALL women. The list could also be and invitation for ANY woman to believe about themselves. GREAT JOB!!
Beautifully said, Katie – I couldn’t agree more!! Thanks for the encouraging words about the article, and for the confirmation that I should write something to address the role of our own self acceptance plays in our daughters’ body image!
I agree with your thoughts in general. However, when your 10 year old is way overweight & pre-diebetic, I don’t think we should ignore that. I know it is physically & emotionally difficult to deal with that and as a loving mom, want to help her make better food & physical activity choices. We use the word ‘healthy’ but other kids say ‘fat.’
Thanks for your comment, Sally. Overweight and elevated blood sugars are a serious and increasingly common issue among children, and I definitely agree that they shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, I think the five statements above are vitally important for that child to hear too!
But, the mom in that case would also need to pray and maybe seek some professional counsel about how to lovingly and truthfully guide the child into changes that would make her body healthier in the short and long term. It sounds like maybe you are in this situation – if so, keep it up! I’m sure your love and affirmation are a great comfort to your daughter as you work toward change. Hugs!
I too have a daughter that at age 10 I got a wake up call that she was over weight. Not with the additional health concerns your daughter has but none the the less we needed to make a change. I never use the word diet and we never talked about losing weight. We do healthy food challenges. We talk about being healthy and making good choices. At 13 she eats very little sugar no processed food and swims 2 1/2 hrs a day 4 days a week. To others my daughter looks fat. To me my daughter is a strong healthy girl who I hope is growing up to love herself as much as her dad and I Love her!
Great article Dena! I especially loved the part about teaching them how awesomely God created our bodies.
Thank you, Kristel!
Thanks for this list, I agree with everything here! Especially that the best things about our bodies are things that aren’t seen. I feel like we emphasize what is right in front of us all the time, and we don’t take time to acknowledge or praise the internal things that we are always working on. So, giving that praise and recognition will help us to be more positive people and more engaging with our children. Thanks for the post!
So true, Mindy! Thanks for reading and for your kind encouragement!